The Carrefour Curse by Dianne K. Salerni

Published by Holiday House

Summary:  Garnet has always loved her mother’s stories about growing up with her large extended family at the Crossroad House, but her mom fled the house long ago, and Garnet has never seen it.  It takes an episode of vomiting frogs to get the two of them back there, where they find the house in disrepair and the family dealing with the family patriarch, Jasper, who is staying alive by sucking the life energy from anyone he can.  As Garnet learns more about her magical family and their history, she discovers powers of her own beyond the magic she has always practiced.  When a crisis threatens her and her cousins, she must use those powers to save herself and to put her family on a new and more promising path.  224 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Buckle yourself in for a magical mystery tour of an ancient house and family that holds more than its share of dark secrets.  Anyone who enjoys a good mystery with a generous dose of spookiness is in for a treat. Dianne Salerni does an amazing job of creating a richly detailed magical family history in just over 200 pages.

Cons:  I struggled to keep all the members of the family straight.  I wish the family tree, which I had to refer to frequently, had been at the beginning of the book instead of on pages 10 and 11.

The Mystery of the Love List by Sarah Glenn Marsh, illustrated by Ishaa Lobo

Published by Viking Books for Young Readers

Summary:  As the only porcupine in her class, Pippa sometimes feels like she stands out.  It’s a lonely feeling.  When her teacher makes a Valentine’s assignment to compile a list of “things that take up room in your heart”, Pippa would rather read her latest Sherlock Gnomes book.  But when she finds a heart with a list that’s similar to her own, she puts her detective skills to work trying to figure out who her potential friend might be.  It’s a tough case to crack, but when Pippa finally figures it out, she comes up with the perfect way to connect: writing a new story called “Sherlock Gnomes and the Mystery of the New Best Friend,” which she leaves for her friend to find in her desk.  The last page shows Pippa and new friend Mitzie the Mouse meeting up in the forest.  32 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A cute story for Valentine’s Day that celebrates friendship and introduces some elements of mystery books.  Kids will have fun spotting Pippa’s new friend in the pictures before she figures out who it is.

Cons:  It doesn’t feel like the right week to be thinking about Valentine’s Day.

The Ghost Tree (Spooky Sleuths #1) by Natasha Deen, illustrated by Lissy Martin

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Asim is new in the island town of Lion’s Gate, Washington, where both of his parents work at the island’s somewhat mysterious lab.  On his first day of school, Asim discovers a mysterious tree in the cemetery that grows unusually fast and seems to be destroying other life around it.  He witnesses a construction worker touch the tree and undergo a complete personality change.  Later, he befriends Rokshar, a girl in his class who aspires to be a scientist and takes a more skeptical view of events that Asim interprets as supernatural.  When their teacher, Mx Hudson, is also negatively affected by the tree, Asim, Rokshar, and some of their friends have to figure out a way to destroy the tree–even if it puts them in danger.  Includes an author’s note about the Guyanese folklore that inspired the story and a sneak peek at book #2.  95 pages; grades 2-4.

Pros:  This illustrated chapter book will appeal to the many kids who like scary stories, but who may not be ready for horror.  It’s a promising series starter with interesting characters and just the right amount of spookiness mixed with scientific skepticism.

Cons:  It’s unclear how Rokshar’s brothers go from being bullies to allies so quickly.

Let the Monster Out by Chad Lucas

Published by Harry N. Abrams

Summary:  Bones is struggling to adapt to his new home in a small Nova Scotia town.  He’s one of the few Black kids, and he’s trying to put some past trauma behind him.  Kyle has never received an official autism diagnosis, but it’s becoming increasingly clear to him that his brain works differently from most other people’s.  Although the two are baseball teammates, they seem unlikely to become friends until they both are affected by the strange happenings going on in their town. Kids are having the same nightmares, and the adults around them are acting like zombies.  Everything seems to be connected to Fluxcor, the giant tech company that has an outsized influence in town.  After somewhat reluctantly joining forces with teammates Marcus and Albert, Bones and Kyle race against time to defeat the company and its evil CEO before it’s too late.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This isn’t typically my favorite genre, but I got sucked into the story pretty quickly and polished it off in three days.  I saw Netflix’s Stranger Things referenced in several reviews, and this would definitely appeal to fans of that show.  But it’s not just a scary story; Bones and Kyle are dealing with real issues in their lives and fighting the evil forces around them helps them to move ahead with those situations as well.  It’s also a nice celebration of boys’ friendships.

Cons:  I got kind of tired of Bones and Albert’s constant bickering, and my hopes that Albert had an interesting backstory never really materialized. 

Catalina Incognito (book 1) by Jennifer Torres, illustrated by Gladys Jose

Published by Aladdin

Summary:  Catalina’s a bit disappointed to receive a sewing kit from her Tía Abuela for her birthday.  Usually Tía, a former telenovela star who is also named Catalina, gives more exciting gifts.  For their first sewing lesson, Tía shows Cat how to fix her torn cat sweatshirt.  Later, Cat realizes the sweatshirt can temporarily transform her into a cat.  It turns out the sewing kit has magic in it that can change ordinary clothing into disguises.  Becoming a cat comes in handy when a ruby goes missing from one of Tía’s most famous gowns on display at the local library.  Cat and her frenemy Pablo combine forces to solve the mystery.  This is the first of a four-part series, simultaneously released with book 2 (there’s a preview at the end of this book).  Books 3 and 4 will be out later this year.  114 pages; grades 1-3. 

Pros:  There’s a lot going on in this early chapter book: magic, a mystery, and a few lessons about perseverance.  The illustrations and larger font make it an appealing choice for younger kids.

Cons:  The mystery didn’t start until about halfway through the book and wrapped up pretty quickly. I hope Pablo gets a bigger role in book 2.

The Supernatural Society (book 1) by Rex Ogle

Published by Inkyard Press

Summary:  Will’s struggling with his parents’ recent divorce, his father’s abandonment, and a move from New York City to the small town of East Emerson.  At first he thinks that the monsters he’s seeing in his new town are some overenthusiastic Halloween fans, but before long he realizes that he alone can see the horrors all around him.  Alone, that is, except for his somewhat eccentric neighbor Ivy, who’s in possession of a ring that allows her to see them as well.  Her brilliantly geeky brother Linus doesn’t have the gift and isn’t sure what to believe, but the three of them ultimately form a team to solve the mystery of disappearing pets in town and discover the evil force behind it.  Narrated by Adam Monster, with a voice that evokes A Series of Unfortunate Events, the book ends with a number of unresolved issues, paving the way for book 2 and beyond.  288 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Fans of Lemony Snicket, The Notebook of Doom series, and other books that combine humor and horror will enjoy this series opener that delivers plenty of both.

Cons:  I was sure that Adam Monster’s identity would be revealed in a way that would somehow tie into the rest of the story, but at least in book 1 he seemed to be a somewhat random choice for a narrator.

Spy School: The Graphic Novel by Stuart Gibbs, illustrated by Anjan Sarkar

Published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Summary:  Ben Ripley has always dreamed of being a spy, but he’s still pretty shocked when he suddenly gets recruited to a school that’s secretly training young CIA operatives. The school is similar to a regular middle school in some ways: bad food, boring classes, and pompous administrators, but the attempted assassinations and hidden bombs put a new spin on things.  It appears that someone has brought Ben to the school for their own nefarious purposes but trying to figure out who that is and why proves to be both challenging and dangerous.  Fortunately, Ben is aided by Erica, the smartest (and coolest) girl in the school.  The enemy is foiled at last, but a letter at the end promises a sequel, and fans of the non-graphic Spy School series know that Ben’s adventures are just beginning. 296 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  There are already legions of Spy School fans, and the graphic novel will undoubtedly recruit many more.  I haven’t read the original, so I don’t know how this compares, but there’s plenty of action and humor which is always a winning combination for upper elementary and middle school.

Cons:  The artwork lacked much background detail and was a bit flat.

Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers

Summary:  When Maizy’s grandfather gets sick, she and her mother return to her mom’s childhood home in Last Chance, Minnesota.  Maizy’s not excited at the prospect of spending an entire summer with grandparents she barely knows, but Last Chance proves to be surprisingly interesting.  Her grandfather, Opa, tells her stories about Lucky, their ancestor from China who unexpectedly wound up in Last Chance and owned the Golden Palace restaurant that Maizy’s grandparents still run.  Lucky encountered hatred and racism in America, but also kindness, and Maizy has some similar experiences.  When the restaurant is targeted in a racist incident, Maizy is determined to find the culprit.  Her grandfather’s tales lead her to dig deeper into the story of the Paper Sons whose pictures hang on the walls of the Golden Palace, and she starts to connect with other Chinese American people around the country.  The whole community comes together when Maizy and her family need them the most, and she learns that there is more to many of her neighbors than meets the eye.  Includes a 10-page author’s note with lots of photos telling of her own Chinese American family’s story.  288 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  There’s a lot packed into this fast-paced story, and Lisa Yee does an excellent job of tying up many different threads in a heartwarming final scene.  Opa’s stories about Lucky are well-integrated into the text, each one just a page or two long so that it doesn’t feel like an interruption to the main narrative. 

Cons:  The fact that I loved the short chapters (some just a page long) probably doesn’t speak well for my diminished attention span.

Hide and Geek by T. P. Jagger

Published by Random House Books for Young Readers Hide and Geek eBook : Jagger, T. P.: Kindle Store

Summary:  Gina and her friends Edgar, Elena, and Kevin are dismissively referred to as GEEKs by a classmate.  Each one has a passion that some consider geeky: Gina’s an aspiring investigative reporter; Edgar is into theater; Elena loves science; and Kevin is a mathematician who’s running for class president.  They pool their talents to try to find a treasure rumored to have been hidden by Maxine Van Houten, inventor of the popular Bamboozler puzzle that helped her town flourish.  Since her death, the town has fallen on hard times that are affecting all four of the kids’ families.  As the GEEKs work their way through the clues left by Maxine, they start to suspect that someone is trying to beat them to the treasure.  It’s a race against time that will require all the brainpower the four of them can muster.  320 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  Mystery and puzzle fans will enjoy this treasure hunt story that celebrates friendship and loyalty as well as smarts.  Billed as book 1, it looks like we will be seeing more about the GEEKs.

Cons:  Readers may need to suspend their disbelief that the kids are able to solve the difficult puzzles as quickly as they do.

Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland

Published by Balzer + Bray

Ophie's Ghosts: Ireland, Justina: 9780062915894: Books

Summary:  Ophie learns that she can see ghosts the night her father is killed by a lynch mob, and his spirit directs her how to save herself and her mother.  The two of them flee to Pittsburgh, where they stay with relatives.  The cousins bully Ophie, but her Aunt Rose, who also has the ability to see ghosts, instructs Ophie how to use her gift.  When Ophie and her mother start working at Daffodil Manor, Ophie has her hands full serving mean old Mrs. Carruthers and trying to figure out with the various “haints” that occupy the house.  One spirit in particular, a beautiful young woman named Clara, is kind and helpful to Ophie.  Clara was killed in the house, but has no recollection of how it happened, and enlists Ophie to help her solve the mystery.  Although Clara seems kind, she’s a ghost, and Aunt Rose has warned Ophie that ghosts can always be dangerous no matter how friendly they seem.  As Ophie begins to unravel Clara’s mystery and close in on the murderer, it starts to seem as though danger is waiting for her in every corner of the spooky old mansion.  336 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Part ghost story, part historical fiction, this engaging story will draw readers in from the suspenseful prologue, and keep them guessing all the way to the end.  Ophie’s life as a Black girl in the 1920’s, first in Georgia and then in Pittsburgh, is filled with injustice and hardship, and it takes all her strength and special gifts to turn things around for her and her mother.  I hope this book will get some award consideration.

Cons:  Not really a con, but more of a warning: if you don’t like spooky stories or aren’t quite ready for Halloween just yet, you may want to take this week off from reading the blog! 😉